Hopping Over Obstacles

It’s Expat Blog Hop time again! I missed the last one or two, but thought I’d give it a go again this week.

This week’s topic is:

What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to when you moved to your new country? What tips would you give for new people arriving?

I’ve yet to have any major breakdowns over moving here, but despite being generally even keeled, there are the occasional moments of frustration for me. I mean, what’s a Southern girl going to do when she thinks she’s not going to be able to have okra again!
Yeah, fortunately I found a couple of sources. It’s not as convenient as it was in the US, but it is available. Then there was the search for baking soda. Who would have thought that finding good ol’ Arm & Hammer Baking Soda would be so difficult! Fortunately, I found it at the same toko where I can usually get my okra. For the record I go to Toko Centraal over by Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne. It’s a good source for harder to find items at reasonable prices.

In other words, it’s those little items that you took for granted at home that suddenly become a major issue when you realize you have no idea where to find them or if they’re even available. When you move to a new country, suddenly everything is that little bit harder. Where do you buy an iron? Where do you buy drain declogger? Where do you buy cold medicine? What do you mean they don’t sell antihistamines in Europe!!!

You soon learn that stores like Blokker are good for cheap household items, and that Kruidvat is a good Walgreens alternative (including a place to get drain declogger), but that Etos is nicer if you just need personal care items. As for antihistamines, get your family and friends back home to put some in every package they send you or pack extra any time they visit you. Otherwise, learn to love the nose sprays and paracetamol that will be your only option here.

Honestly, though, you soon learn and if you ask, someone’s bound to point you in the right direction. Plus, it’s half the fun of exploring and discovering new things!

Now that I’ve been here a while, the thing I find most difficult to adjust to is not being able to speak easily and almost dreading having anyone speak to me. The reality, living here in a city center, is that usually the person speaks enough English if I get stuck, but I miss being able to chat easily, even with strangers, or just make small-talk with shop workers or fellow dog owners. That’s the obstacle I’m trying to overcome now and I think once I’m more comfortable with the language, the worst of the adjustment period will be over.

Wordless-ish Wednesday: Dodenherdenking

Remembrance Day
Just a few words … Dodenherdenking (Remembrance Day) takes place each year on 4 May. It honors civilians and military personnel who have given their lives in service to the Netherlands since the outbreak of World War II. The flags fly at half-mast, as this one was doing today in Den Haag (The Hague). More about my visit tomorrow.

Bikes and Beer

I came across this six-pack bike holder today on Twitter. It’s an offering from Urban Outfitters and originally started life as something for Harcourt Bike Polo players. UO has decided to use it for biking with beer. The thing is, I can’t help but see that and think how puny and wussy it looks. You see, this is the kind of sight I see here in the Netherlands on a regular basis:

(Photo: Amstel Bier by Amsterdamize)
Those crates of beer (something like 24 bottles in a crate) are the more common way of selling beer in bulk here, rather than the little six-packs more common in the US. And unless they’ve got the crate on a front carrier on the bike, that’s exactly how they transport it. They ride along easily with one hand balancing the heavy crate on the back, and as you see, the girl even has another bag or two hanging off the handlebars. This is normal here. Impressive, isn’t it! So really, it’s hard to look at that little six-pack carrier and think much of it. It’s for amateurs.

For the record, this is just a small section of the beer aisle in one of the grocery stores I go to.

A Clown By Any Other Name …

This is Pippo (PEE-poe).

This is also Pippo.

You see, we named our dog after the Italian version of Disney’s character, Goofy. With those ears, we had to! Our Pippo can be pretty goofy, too.

In the US, the name was lost in translation, so to speak. We had to explain it, if people asked. In fact, the vet put a little notation about it on Pippo’s file! However, here in the Netherlands, the name actually translates from Italian to Dutch, in a general way. You see, this is also Pipo.

Here, there’s a famous Pipo the Clown. He was featured in a tv series and a musical and made a number of records and such. I was first introduced to the concept of Pipo the Clown via Pipoos, a chain of craft stores here in the Netherlands. I eventually learned about the clown himself.

The common thread among all three Pippos seems to be clownish, goofy behavior.
It's a Bit Small
Yup. That seems about right!

Numbers, Dutch Style

A few weeks ago, the tv series Fringe (which you should all be watching) started off an episode with various people gathered around radios, listening for certain numbers. The first numbers we heard? They were in Dutch! If you’ve seen the episode, you will remember the reactions the characters had upon hearing the numbers: heads clutched between hands in agony. Technically, it wasn’t that the numbers were in Dutch that caused the pain, although when I first began learning Dutch numbers, I must admit I probably looked the same at times!

Back when I was learning French in high school, I remember thinking that the French way of counting the 90s was bizarre: four twenty ten (four times twenty plus 10). Why make it more difficult than it needs to be! Then I discovered how the Dutch do two-digit numbers. Take 28 for example, as seen in the address in the photo. In English, you would say twenty-eight. In Dutch, it’s “eight and twenty”. Any number from 21 to 99 (excluding 30, 40, etc.) is done this way: eenentwintig (21), negenennegentig (99). It makes sense, and I still prefer it to the French mathematics, but it does take some getting used to.

The difference can also lead to confusion when translated. As an English speaker, when I mentally translate the numbers, it’s not uncommon for me to hear achtentwintig (28), but transpose it to 82 in my head. The Dutch have the same problem sometimes when trying to say a number in English. For them sixty-three can become 36. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is one of those things that can be frustrating, but can also be interesting. It’s one of those little differences that I enjoy … unless I’m trying to keep a lot of numbers straight at one time!

Foto Vrijdag 2.47 23 Bis

23 Bis
I took Pippo out for a short walk yesterday after dropping off some recycling and we wandered down a short, picturesque street that I’ve always enjoyed. Lots of older buildings and some classic Dutch architecture. This little corner particularly caught my eye. There’s just something about the simplicity of the brick arch and the beautifully weathered address sign that just appeals to me. I only had my camera phone with me, so it’s not the best quality. I really need to remember to take my regular camera with me some time. There are lots of lovely little bits and pieces to photograph on this one old street.

Crafty Shout-Out

Not that long after moving here, I bought a second-hand sewing machine and whipped up a couple of napkins for us to use, since I had left behind all of my others in the US. (I really did leave behind an extraordinary amount of things.) Anyway, I hated to just leave them plain, so I sketched out a little Dutch couple and embroidered them on for a his-and-hers set.

Fast forward a few years later, and as I was trying to wrangle my Google Reader back under control today — I had 1000+ items to be read — I came across a post by one of the crafty/cute blogs I read, appropriately called she likes cute. The author of the blog is a Dutch woman living in Rotterdam and her latest post was titled Inspiration Tuesday: Dutch Handmade. Lo and behold, there were my napkins! It was a very pleasant surprise to see my humble little napkins included. It definitely made my day!

Where To Buy Books

Yesterday we ventured over to the other side and town and went to our first event at the Jaarbeurs convention center: the boekenfestijn (book festival). This is a travelling book sale that sets up in cities all over the Netherlands, as well as Belgium. It runs for three or four days in each city, before packing up and moving on. It’s not fancy, just row after row of books. Pretty close to heaven for a bibliophile like myself! Even better, the books are generally fairly inexpensive.

I knew they would have English-language books on hand, but was pleasantly surprised at just how many. On the other hand, overhearing some of the Dutch people there made me think they weren’t so pleased. However, there were other sections that were predominantly Dutch; I think they just hadn’t worked their way over there yet. In the end, we bought five or six books for about €20, and could have easily bought more if we hadn’t limited ourselves to that budget. There were some interesting cookbooks, but they were a bit pricier, as cookbooks inevitably are, so I resisted. Good practice for the diet I’m on anyway. I didn’t need that big book full of chocolate recipes.

Fixed Location

Voorstraat 55
If you’re in Utrecht and looking for a stable source of inexpensive books in English, I recommend Antiquariaat, located at Voorstraat 55, a short walk from the Neude. This used-books store has a regularly changing supply of English-language books that take up the front left corner of the store. They also frequently have special discounts where you get a third book for half price, or a discount on books displayed on the shelf outside. They’ll almost always tell you if there’s a discount, without you having to ask.

It’s a friendly shop and it looks like they have some more interesting — and probably more expensive — used (rare) books in the back. When we were in last week, we ended up chatting with the owner who had just finished speaking with a rare-books collector who deals in some lofty price ranges! On the other hand, the owner of the store also buys regular paperbacks to sell to those of us with shallower pockets. If you have any books to sell to him, the best time to go is Tuesday afternoon. He’s most likely to be in the shop then. [Edited to add it is now closed]

Other Options

There are a few other spots I go to for my book needs here in Utrecht. On Saturdays at the outdoor market over at Vredenburg, there’s a stall that sells used books. They also tend to have a section devoted to English-language books, as well as some in French and German. Of course, if you want something newly released, you can always go to Selexyz Broese over on the Oudegracht across from the Stadhuis. The library is conveniently — and amusingly — located next door.

Bookstore and Library
Bruna has both online and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s a Bruna in the train station that comes in handy with magazines and books (in Dutch and English) for those times when you realize you might need something to read to pass the time.

Finally, Bol.com is an online shopping option, similar to Amazon before it started selling everything and the kitchen sink. They’ve got books in multiple languages, both new and used, as well as music, games and various electronics.

[Edited to add that there is now an Amazon.nl that is almost solely books right now. 12/2016]

If you’re in Utrecht and looking for some book shops, I hope this helps. If you know of any other good sources of English-language books here in the city center, do please let me know.

[20 April 2013: See my updated list of bookstores here.]


Religion in Unexpected Places

Oud Kath Kerk
For better or for worse, a lot of people think of prostitution and drugs when they think of the Netherlands. Or they think about the more positive fact that the Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage. What they probably don’t think about is a Dutch Bible Belt, yet it does exist. In a nation so liberal in so many ways, there are still (very small) pockets of religious enthusiasts, to put a polite spin on it.

A few weeks ago, before the World Cup final — which took place on a Sunday — some of the more fanatical religious leaders called for their flocks to avoid this “sinful” match, because they objected to television being watched on Sundays. The ire was raised when three cafés dared to show the match in the village of Urk, one of the notches in the Dutch Bible Belt. The horror! One wonders how much hypocrisy was being practiced that day in the privacy of the homes of some of the faithful. On the other hand, those who didn’t watch at least avoided the pain of the outcome of the match.

The Christian Right are also in the government, making up various political parties, including the CU (Christenunie). The Christian-controlled lower house of the Dutch government seems to have pushed through an interesting bit of legislation recently. They’ve decided to grant immediate asylum to any Iranian Muslim refugee … who converts to Christianity. It’s only for those who convert to Christianity, though. Any other religion — or those who declare themselves atheist — are out of luck and will have to go through the normal channels to try to obtain asylum. Ironically, it’s thought that those who convert to Christianity will face a much more dangerous situation if they were to go back to Iran. I’m not sure why other religions (or lack thereof) would be any less risky. I’m also not sure why it’s only Iranian refugees.

I’m an atheist from the Bible Belt in the United States. That’s pretty risky living! Surely, I should qualify for some sort of special asylum. 😉